At my first stay at Sandals back in January I was amazed at how they were able to take the best of Jamaica, and deliver it in a way that not only a tourist would appreciate it, but also in a way that a local Jamaican would.
I could see them shift gears. When they realized that I was Jamaican, the accent would disappear and they seemed genuinely happy to see me there, and several times went the extra mile to make the stay a memorable one.
And they succeeded fabulously.
However, Sandals is the exception to what I perceive to be a general low level of customer service afflicting the region.
This is not to say that the service delivered to tourists is not different. In fact, in a prior blog I spoke about the three levels of service: Tourist Service, Frien’ Service and Res’ a Dem Service.
Tourist Service is rendered to foreigners, and the more foreign-looking, the more likely the service is to be polite, helpful and solicitous. It does not apply to locals.
Frien’ Service is the best service a Caribbean local can expect to receive. It is warm, connected and intimate, and comes when the server recognizes the customer from some prior acquaintance or connection.
Res’ a Dem Service is the cold, indifferent, mash-up-face service that is given to the general public, and I have seen it in every CSME island that I have visited in the region (and also Bahamas).
Our people often cry racism when they see tourists being treated better, but the cause is not racial hatred… it is more like a welcoming nature to outsiders.
While these are gross generalizations, I have found that they have a spark of truth deep inside. The reasons Sandals has been able to be so effective, is that they are able to create an environment in which their employees deliver Frien’ Service to people that they do not know, but act as if they know. Also, they expose their new recruits to an extraordinary level of service that they themselves have never personally received before.
The fact that makes this remarkable, is that there is not a single island I have visited in which there is a local company giving excellent service to local people, unless they are consuming a very high end, and expensive, service.
Regular, everyday service is consistently delivered as Res’ a Dem Service.
In a project I once studied, I noticed that the North American consultants that were used never did define what they meant by “excellent service”. It seemed self-evident and self-explanatory.
When they spoke to upper managers, they too understood what “excellent service” meant. After all, many of them had studied in a First World country, and had taken trips to visit Macy’s, Harrod’s and DisneyWorld.
However, what they failed to realize was that they knew what excellent service was because they had received it first-hand from a consistent service provider. Having a good impression of Disney service comes from multiple first hand experiences that are mutually reinforcing. The consultants and senior managers had all had the very same experiences.
However, the average Caribbean person has not had that kind of experience. Instead, they know Frien’ Service and Res’ a Dem Service. The latter is the default, delivered when they have no connection to the person in front of them.
Companies and consultants need to be very careful to not just define the experience, which is a cognitive requirement, but also to create opportunities to give employees an idea of what consistent, high quality service feels like when the recipient is not a tourist or a friend.
This can be done in several ways, and I think that Sandals does this by immersing their employees in a culture in which it is easy to give good service, as a function of the way they are themselves treated by their management.
I cannot say with certainty that this is so — I have no first-hand knowledge of what happens on the inside. But when I read the remarks in the link given above, and reflect on my experience I know down deep in my bones that the smiles are not faked, and the extra mile that employees go is not just done in order to get something in return (indeed, there is no tipping allowed.)
The fact that Sandals has been able to do this on a large scale across several properties on different islands (presumably effectively) tells me that it is built into the Sandals system.
And this is what our public services, banks, retail stores, food shops and mini-buses across the region have not begun to do — develop a way to systematically deliver a positive customer experience, starting with their front-line staff.